Had a fantastic Thanksgiving break in Chicago, full of great food. Here's the rundown:
HUGO'S FROG BAR: Came here ravenous after 2 hours stuck in traffic from the airport to downtown. Hugo's made us feel right at home. We ordered their signature frog legs, miso-marinated Chilean sea bass with shimeji mushrooms and peas, a lobster tail with butter, and sesame-crusted seared tuna with a sesame lime vinaigrette. My favorite thing was actually the gumbo-like Bookbinder's soup that came with our entrees – robustly seasoned, warming, full of fish and vegetables and tomato flavor. The garlic-butter sauce on the frog legs was also delicious. Of the entrees, my favorite was the sea bass – nice soy butter sauce on it, and the best cooked of the three. We shared a monstrous slice of key lime pie to finish, with what I felt to be too much meringue, but we scraped a bunch off and enjoyed the bottom layers well enough.
EATALY: We thought we could pop in here for a quick lunch. We were wrong. I postponed my afternoon appointment so we could wander about and gape. This is a great spot for foodie tourists. I love the European marketplace feel, folks strolling everywhere with wine glasses in hand, and the fact that it’s divided into themed mini-restaurants blending seamlessly with the market sections. We ordered sandwiches from the rosticeria: brisket with salsa verde, incredibly good. Hot and fresh, rich with fatty tender meat, delicious crusty fresh bread. The sandwich demands to be eaten right away; I think it would suffer and sog from being taken out. We were surprisingly stuffed from just the small size sandwich, but also managed to fit in some good gelato after a break to wander. I would love to come back and try some more things – their salumi and formaggio stations, for example, and more kinds of bread. Also bought some dark chocolate and a jar of mushroom-truffle sauce to take home.
MIRAI (Gold Coast location): This intimate, 24-seat sushi place has very high-quality fish, inventive preparations, and prices to match. Worth it if you have the means. We managed to snag seats at the bar, and ordered a wide variety of nigiri, sashimi, and crudos, mostly from the chef’s specialties section of the menu. If I had to pick a favorite it might have been the nigiri trio, but really, all of the dishes were small and elegantly executed. All fish was extremely fresh and melted in my mouth. To fill up, we also ordered edamame and the disproportionately large bowl of shiso-bacon fried rice. It’s topped with a poached egg beneath a haystack of shredded nori. This tasted more Korean than Japanese to me, thanks to a hefty dose of sesame oil and a texture reminiscent of the crunchy bit at the bottom of a bibimbap, but it was really good nevertheless. An over-eager waitress was a bit intrusive, partly because there’s not really enough space in the restaurant for waitstaff to stand.
DAVID BURKE’S PRIMEHOUSE: Went here for their Thanksgiving pre-fixe and had a splendid time. The place was packed, so we waited about half an hour past our reservation, but once we were seated, the service and meal were great, and reasonably priced at $60/person for four high-quality courses and family-style sides. Upscale Thanksgiving classics, and plenty of them. I particularly liked the pumpkin bisque, green beans with mushroom gravy and the juicy roast turkey breast – it’s rare for me to prefer turkey white meat to dark, but I did. Also loved the whimsical, sardonic Todd White murals ringing the dining area. Next time, I’ll come back for steak.
CAPITAL GRILLE: Even though this isn’t a Chicago-born institution, I picked it after studying http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/359377. We had a great waitress, really knowledgeable, accommodating, and hilarious. It does seem strange that they had the wine list and desserts on an iPad but paper menus for the rest. But the food was top-notch. We shared an excellent spinach salad with mushrooms and warm bacon dressing. The steaks stole the show. My brother and I went halves on two steaks: the day’s featured steak and the chef’s special Delmonico. The featured steak was a bone-in filet with truffled bone marrow butter and it was possibly the best filet I’ve ever had, with a truly buttery texture and powerful beefy flavor. But my award goes to the porcini-rubbed Delmonico with aged balsamic vinegar. I can’t even describe it without sounding like a mail-order steak catalogue cliché. Just go and get it the next time you have a special occasion. We finished with a coconut cream pie that was also outstanding. The vanilla crust, a beautiful lovechild of vanilla bean, coconutty macaroon, and sugar cookie, is what takes it over the edge.
Chicago, thanks for a great time. I hope I’ll be back soon.